How to change a nappy

Nappy changes are as much a part of parenting as feeding your little one. Although it takes a little practice, changing nappies will soon become second nature once you get the hang of it.

Read on for our step-by-step guide on how to change your newborn’s nappy, with some extra tips based on whether your little one is a boy or a girl. We’ll also explain how often to change your baby’s nappy, and how to know when your little one is ready to go up size, as well as how to avoid leaks and blowouts.

How to Change a Baby’s Nappy

Make sure you have everything you’ll need for the nappy change on hand. Once you’re ready, here’s how to change your baby's nappy in a few easy steps:

  1. Lay your baby down on his or her back and remove the nappy that needs changing. Roll it up and stick the tapes down to seal the bundle. Chuck the nappy into a nappy bin if you have one, or set it aside to throw into the rubbish bin when you’ve finished. If you’re putting the nappy in the rubbish, place it in a plastic bag first to reduce odours. Always keep plastic bags out of your baby’s reach, to reduce the risk of suffocation.

  2. Gently clean your baby’s nappy area, taking care to clean between the folds of skin. You can use gentle wipes or a little cotton wool dipped in water. Always wipe from front to back. Talk to your baby and smile. This is a great bonding opportunity and talking to your little one helps your baby’s development.

  3. If your baby has nappy rash, apply a thin layer of barrier cream to the affected area. Your health visitor or pharmacist will be able to recommend a nappy rash cream. If your baby has a rash in the nappy area that doesn’t clear up in a few days check in with your health visitor or doctor – this way an infection – or some other condition like eczema – can be ruled out or treated in good time.

  4. Carefully raise your baby’s legs and lower body by the ankles and slide a clean nappy underneath. The fastening tapes should be at the back, on the part of the nappy that’s under your baby. Then, pull the front of the nappy up between your baby’s legs and lay it flat on your baby’s belly.

  5. Lift the two wings of the nappy on both the left and right side, and stick the stretchy fastening tape found on each wing onto the front of the nappy. The nappy should be snug around your little one’s waist, but not too tight. The tabs should be symmetrical. Run a finger around the inside of the the leg cuffs to pull them out; this helps prevent leaks. When you’re finished, wash your hands and clean the nappy changing table or mat.

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What Do You Need to Change a Nappy?

Here are all the supplies you need to change a nappy:

  • Nappies. Although you only need one nappy at a time, it can be helpful to have plenty on hand so that you don’t run out when you need one. Store the nappies within easy reach of you, but out of your baby’s reach.

  • Wipes. To clean your baby's bottom, you'll need wipes. Another choice is a cotton wool and water.

  • Barrier cream. You’ll need a barrier cream in case your baby gets nappy rash. Most babies get this at some point. Some babies may have more sensitive skin any may be more prone to it, but there are plenty of other causes. Not changing your baby’s nappy frequently enough is one, but others include diarrhoea or even some soaps, detergents or bubble bath. Your health visitor can recommend a barrier cream. If the rash persists ask your doctor or health visitor for advice.

  • Changing table. The safest place to change your baby’s nappy is on a changing mat or towel on the floor as there is no risk of your baby falling. The convenience of a changing table is hard to beat though, especially if it’s equipped with drawers, shelves or cubby holes for storing nappy-changing essentials. If you do use a changing table, never turn away or leave your little one unattended on it.

  • Changing mat. The mat can go on top of the changing table, or you can just put it down on the floor. Some may come with a strap or raised sides to secure your baby. Although this offers an extra layer of security, keep a hand and an eye on your baby at all times.

  • Nappy bin. It’s helpful to have somewhere to stash your baby’s smelly nappies. A nappy bin helps lock away odours. You can also use a standard bin with a lid.

  • Change of clothes. If you’ll be changing your baby into fresh clothes it’s a good idea to have these with you so that you never have to leave your baby’s side. Never leave your baby unattended on a high surface like a changing table, even for a moment.

You might like to set up a nappy changing station in your baby’s nursery, with all the things you’ll need for nappy changes. This way, with everything within arm’s reach, you won't have to take your eyes or hands off your baby.

Nappy Changing Station

How to Change a Baby Boy’s Nappy

Follow the step-by-step guide above to learn how to change your boy’s nappy but keep this one extra step in mind: Baby boys sometimes get an urge to wee when you take the nappy off, so position a muslin over his nether regions to help prevent pee getting on the wall, on you or on your little one’s face.

When cleaning your baby boy’s genital area, clean carefully around the testicles and penis, but don’t pull back the foreskin. To prevent leaks, it’s also a good idea to check that his willy is positioned downwards before closing the nappy.

How to Change a Baby Girl’s Nappy

Follow the step-by-step guide above to change your baby girl’s nappy, taking extra care to wipe from front to back. This helps reduce the risk of your little one getting a urinary tract infection, which are especially common among baby girls. Don’t forget to gently and thoroughly clean between the folds of skin.

How to Change Your Newborn Baby’s Nappy

If you’re a first-time parent, you may find it takes a few tries to get used to changing your newborn baby’s nappy. Don’t worry though, you’ll soon get the hang of it. Just refer back to the step-by-step guide above if you’re unsure what to do next.

Just after your baby is born, your midwife, doula, or one of the nurses may give you some hands-on lessons.

Your newborn baby’s umbilical cord stump will dry and fall off a week or two after birth. Until then, fold the waistband of the nappy down if necessary to keep it away from the cord stump.

As you wait for the umbilical cord stump to fall off, you might like to use some of the nappy changes as an opportunity to gently clean and dry the umbilical cord area and check for signs of infection like a yellowish discharge or red skin in the area around the stump. If you do notice anything like this, tell your midwife, health visitor or doctor.

Your baby’s first few poos will be a thick, blackish-green almost tar-like substance called meconium. This is made of stuff that your little one swallowed – along with the amniotic fluid – while still inside your uterus.

As the meconium passes out of your little one’s system (over the course of around 48 hours) his or her poo will change to a yellow or mustard colour.

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, this poo will be quite runny and odourless. If you’re feeding your baby formula, the poo will likely be darker brown and smellier.

Don’t be surprised if you notice a little white or bloody discharge in your baby girl’s nappy in the first few days after birth – this is normal. It’s due to hormones that have passed from your body to your baby’s body via the placenta. The hormones will clear from your baby’s body in a few days.

Also, you might see what looks like a little blood in your newborn’s urine in the first few days. This is likely caused by an over-concentration of urine (called urate crystals) and isn’t actually blood. This is usually harmless, but let your midwife or doctor know if you spot this.

Be sure to check with your midwife, health visitor or doctor if you have any questions about what you’re seeing in your newborn’s nappy.

How Often Should You Change a Nappy?

Experts recommend changing your baby’s nappy after every poo and frequently inbetween, to ensure that a soiled or wet nappy doesn’t stay on too long.

Depending on your baby’s age and whether he or she is breastfed, bottle fed or eating solids, as well as other factors like digestive issues, your baby may have a bowel movement anywhere from after every meal, once a day, or even once a week. All these can be normal.

As a rough guide:

  • On average, babies poo around 4 times a day in the first week, decreasing to an average of 2 times a day by the age of 12 months

  • A breastfed newborn baby may poo after every feed for the first few weeks, then might go several days without a bowel movement after about six weeks

  • If your little one gets his or her nourishment from formula, he or she may poo up to five times a day at first. After a few months this may go down to one bowel movement a day

  • When it comes to pee, you might find yourself changing 6 to 8 wet nappies in the first few weeks, although this varies from baby to baby.

  • As a rule of thumb, in the early weeks your newborn could need as many as 8 to 12 nappy changes a day.

How Do You Know It’s Time for a Nappy Change?

Some nappies have a wetness indicator so that you can see at a glance if your baby needs a nappy change.

Other signs your baby may need a nappy change include:

  • You reach into the nappy with a finger and it’s damp

  • You can smell or see pee or poop

  • The nappy is sagging or feels heavy.

What Are the Signs Your Baby Needs a Bigger Nappy?

Here are some signs that your baby needs a bigger nappy:

  • The tapes don’t reach the centre of the waistband

  • You can’t fit two fingers under the waistband

  • There are red marks on your baby’s tummy or thighs

  • The nappy doesn’t cover your baby’s bottom

  • Your baby seems uncomfortable (for example, he or she tugs at the nappy).

Use our nappy size guide to ensure a perfect fit.

Check that nappy fits right

What to Do if the Nappy Is Leaking

If you start having leaks and blowouts, it might be time to go up a nappy size. As your baby grows, so does the quantity of pee and poo. A bigger nappy may not only fit better, it can also hold more liquid.

Even if the nappy is the right size, if you don’t put it on correctly you could still experience leaks. Double check that you haven’t fastened the nappy too tightly or too loosely, that the tapes are symmetrical and that the leg cuffs are turned out.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • 1. Lay your baby down on the changing mat, undo the fastening tapes and slide the nappy out from under your little one’s bottom.
    2. Gently clean your baby’s nappy area with a wipe or some cotton wool and water, wiping from front to back and taking care to clean between the folds of skin.
    3. If your baby has nappy rash, apply barrier cream to the affected area.
    4. Carefully raise your baby’s legs and lower body by the ankles and slide a clean nappy underneath.
    5. Lift the two wings of the nappy and stick the stretchy fastening tape found on each wing onto the front of the nappy. Wash your hands and clean the nappy changing table or mat.
  • If your baby doesn’t have sensitive skin or nappy rash you may not need to apply any creams or ointments during nappy changes.

    If your baby has nappy rash, a thin layer of barrier cream may help protect his or her skin from moisture. If this doesn’t seem to work, ask your midwife, health visitor or pharmacist for advice.

  • Always change your baby’s nappy after every poo, and frequently inbetween. Baby’s with sensitive skin may need more frequent nappy changes to avoid nappy rash. A newborn baby can go through up to 8 to 12 nappies in a day.
  • Use a baby wipe or some (warm) wet cotton wool to gently clean your baby’s nappy area, following this simple advice:
    • Take care to clean inside all the folds of skin
    • Clean around a baby boy’s testicles and penis, but don’t pull back the foreskin
    • To help prevent infections always clean from front to back, especially if your baby is a girl.

Even if you don't always love nappy changes, you’ll love knowing that your little one feels dry and comfortable in a fresh, clean nappy. Plus, as you become a baby changing pro those nappy changes will become quicker and easier. Before you know it changing nappies will become second nature, and you’ll be able to enjoy the time talking and bonding with your baby as you expertly get your little one changed into a fresh nappy.

How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.